When I was growing up, as many of my generation will likely remember, there was a lot of béchamel sauce used in recipes, but I don’t remember hearing it called that. It’s just a fancy French name for white sauce, made with equal parts flour and butter and a liquid, often milk but it could be cream. (Today the butter could be replaced by several options: duck fat, bacon fat, even goose fat.) Depends on what you will do with the sauce.
Into the sauce was added a tin or two of drained sweet peas, or a tin of drained mushrooms or any of several other fillers.
This was served as a light supper or even a brunch by preparing regular ordinary buttered toast and pouring a half cup of the béchamel mix over the toast. Eat using a knife and fork. Maybe have a spoon handy so as not to miss any of the sauce.
I rarely make béchamel, or any sauce using flour, preferring to make a thickened cream sauce, reducing it to thicken, no flour.
I sautéed three fresh, never frozen, boneless, skinless chicken breasts. You could use any chicken: thighs, legs. I didn’t marinate the chicken although you could.
I just smeared one side of each chicken piece with my refrigerated, homemade oven-roasted golden garlic purée, a butter knife swipe of Dijon, salt, pepper, sweet paprika, thyme, nutmeg, and a drizzle of Mazola Corn Oil. Only one side.
I often use this mix, sometimes as a marinade, other times just when ready to sauté in sizzling unsalted butter. So simple. And delicious no matter which way you serve it.
Only caveat: Do not overcook the chicken. The chicken typically cooks in about three minutes each side. Remove from heat, cover at a tilt to let steam escape and let the chicken rest before slicing thinly, on the diagonal.
I ate one breast with vegetables and salad. I refrigerated, covered airtight in a glass container, the other two breasts, thinking maybe to make chicken salad or my chicken pâté for quesadillas in the next day or two.
The next day, a thought hit me. There was lots of au naturel jus and deglazing liquid in the leftovers chicken dish in the fridge. I reheated the jus and added a cup and a half of half and half cream.
Let the cream, jus-mix come to a full boil, turned down the heat and reduced by half. Sprinkled the sauce with matching salt, pepper, sweet red paprika, a pinch of thyme and a little nutmeg, and a quarter cup of LiteHouse Brand freeze-dried fresh parsley.
See where this is going? I sliced the leftover cooked chicken breasts quite thin, on the diagonal. And tossed the juicy chicken pieces into the hot cream sauce along with the residual jus. But wait.
Why, I have no idea, but I found a tin of baby spring green peas on a pantry shelf. Green Giant to be precise. No idea how it got there.
I’m not a big fan of peas to begin with. Ideally I would have blanched fresh peas in the pod. But I drained the peas and added them to the chicken in the cream sauce, just to heat through. Of course, the peas are already cooked.
And, yes, I buttered two slices of plain ordinary toast. Topped with the chicken and peas in cream sauce, it was a delightful, actually very tasty, trip down memory lane.
Who would have thought such a simple yet slightly differently prepared mix would be worth reinventing? Or even sharing. There might be those among our readers who never heard of the wartime food. It might be years before I eat tinned peas again, but, seriously, it was a delicious surprise.
ALTERNATE: I’m thinking maybe use leftover chunks of fresh, sautéed or roasted salmon steak, instead of the chicken, or even lobster pieces? Again with the peas? Any takers?
You could always replace the peas with thin asparagus spears, sautéed in sizzling unsalted butter, chopped. The asparagus cooks in just minutes.
And to any mix, you could always sauté thin strips of multi-coloured bell peppers and onion for another extra special simple plate. In barbecue season, grill the pepper mix in one of the pan containers with punched holes. Perhaps marinate the peppers first.
Why stop there? Add a couple of marinated Canadian cream cheese coins from your log marinating jar.
MAYBE: Stir into the cream sauce a teaspoon or so of thick tomato paste. Not tomato sauce. Add sautéed medium-size shrimp, cooked in their shells, to the chicken sauce mix. Crumble a little fresh dried tarragon over top. Stir in a tablespoon of Pernod or even green Chartreuse, and just when you think the dish is finished, add a few knobs of very cold unsalted butter to the very hot sauce, and just swirl the pan a little as the butter melts into a shiny finish.
You could serve on micro-minute buttered basmati rice, on your favourite noodles (I like homemade egg noodles personally, with this sauce), or even on my special whipped mashed potatoes. Any combination of these leftovers is a great addition to generous 2×2-inch cubes of homemade chicken stock polenta.
I discovered the leftover chicken in cream sauce works beautifully using instead a thin, barely cooked (pan-fried) pork chop. Very yum.
As we used to say, making something out of nothing takes no time at all.
© “From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks” Turning everyday meal making into a Gourmet Experience